Death on the Farm

February 15, 2021

I sit here at 5:30 am, tea brewing, after a rough day on the farm. I have been awake since 4 am, grateful that sleep did come. 

Death is a part of farming. In fact, whether you're talking plants or livestock, it's sort of the point. 

But the goal is an honored death after a life well lived, well loved. And sometimes, amongst the thousands of sweet, animal faces that grace our soils each year, that doesn't always come to fruition. 

Death is a phenomenon that western society doesn't have a close relationship with. We really spend quite a bit of our time trying to ignore death, and when it comes, we struggle to process it in a healthy way. As death comes closer to our lives this year in a pandemic, we limit hospital visitors and literally lock our treasured seniors in secluded rooms...for our "safety." Is it our physical fear or love that we are keeping "safe...?" I have to wonder. 

One duck. One cow. Three lambs. 

It's hard not to count winter or a season in this way. Like the calf who got lost and we buried after predation on our wedding morning. Death is an integral part of our life. 

Sometimes, you can handle it in stride. Sometimes, it's one too many and it takes days to get the taste of grief out of your heart. 

Is this the goal? Is fear of life keeping us safe, or simply killing us? I've read two remarks by ancestral-based foodie authors this winter that have caused me to think deeper. They both note the deep discord our culture has towards death, and moreso, towards the fact that it sustains life. 

We aren't comfortable killing animals for our food, so we eat only plants (which harms the planet further and likely, our health, too). We assign death to a different home so it's not in ours. 

But, death cannot be pushed away. Not while you're living, and not while you're dying.

Perhaps, the step forward isn't to deny, ignore, or turn away, but to embrace. To appreciate the sacrifice of animal and plant life so deeply that chooses to be here, at this time, to nourish us. To accept our eventual reality, and praise the organism that is choosing to transition to feeding the rest of nature rather than itself. 

May I suggest that it's not what food you eat, but how you feel towards it.
How much love was projected at it as it grew, and with deep love it was given over for its purpose - to feed the earth, be it a human or soil. How deeply grateful you are for its sacrifice. 

It doesn't really make me feel much better. But it does offer a way forward through grief and a new perspective on it - grief is deep love. Love not lost, but moved on to its next phase. As easy as it is to choose to not think about the animals we miss, I choose to feel, to appreciate, to love - not just in life, but death also.

Danielle Olson Jones

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